BAND MEMBERS- FZ, Ray White (guitar, vocals), Patrick O'Hearn (bass, vocals), Terry Bozzio (drums, vocals, devil), Eddie Jobson (violin, keyboards)
DATES- January 13th through February 17th
COUNTRIES- 8 (all European)
# OF DIFFERENT SONGS PLAYED- 22
AVERAGE SHOW LENGTH- 105 minutes
AVERAGE # OF FZ SOLOS PER SHOW- 7
SONGS THAT FZ WOULD SOLO IN- Black Napkins, Blues, Cruisin for Burgers, Illinois Enema Bandit, I'm the Slime, Jones Crusher (i.e. Blues and Leather Goods), Leather Goods, Muffin Man, My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama, Pound for a Brown (on the Bus), The Purple Lagoon, The Torture Never Stops, Willie the Pimp
COMMENTS ON FZ SOLOS- This is a consistently good tour for Frank and his guitar. Not great (though he does flirt with outright excellence on occasion), but good enough to warrant a listen, and interesting in a evolutionary sort-of way. More than anything, this is the tour where Frank starts experimenting with his playing (apart from the '76 "Zoot Allures" obviously). Though he does not do this to any great degree, there are still many instances where Frank employs subtle but effective use of delay and other effect pedals, and works on varying his style within a single composition. In your typical Spring '77 show, Frank would solo at length in "The Torture Never Stops", "Pound for a Brown (on the bus)", and "Black Napkins", and it is in these tunes where Frank continues to hone his skills and slowly develop into the guitar maestro that he would become. But it is in "Jones Crusher", or more specifically, after "Jones Crusher", where Frank really starts experimenting. Towards the latter part of the tour, Frank introduces the guitar-based coda found on "Sheik Yerbouti", but here it is a much more full-blown affair. Frank starts playing, the band supports him, and everybody waits and sees what happens. "Leather Goods" from the 1996 "Lather" release is an example of such a coda, and it aptly demonstrates the experimental degrees to which Frank was willing to go. Finally, we must not forget that Frank has the Bozzio/O'Hearn rhythm section working behind him, which for me is the best "guitar solo rhythm section" that Frank ever had. In my opinion, they have the ability to drive a solo and push it to greater heights better than any other tandem that Frank ever had.
SONGS THAT FZ USUALLY SOLOED IN BUT DID NOT ON THIS TOUR- City of Tiny Lites (no FZ middle solo- only Ray- but an occasional end of song solo/rave-up)
NEW SONGS ON TOUR (1st time performed live)- Broken Hearts are for Assholes, Dong Work for Yuda, Jones Crusher
MONSTER SONGS- None. One of the disappointing aspects of this tour is the lack of any full-blown weirdness. Apart from the "Jones Crusher" codas (which were few in number), this tour does not have any outright improvisation. Yes, there are solos galore, but they are tightly structured within the confines of their particular song. "Pound for a Brown" is nothing but a guitar solo vehicle this time out, and the only song that contains a variety of solos is "Black Napkins". But again, there is a structure to the variety, and nothing truly improvisational and experimental happens. A huge disappointment in my book.
OVERVIEW- Another consistently good but probably not great Frank Zappa tour, with one major flaw that has quite a detrimental effect on the success of the entire tour. Like many of the late '70's tours, Frank has fallen into the routine setlist trap, and, with one or two exceptions, each show consists of the same 16 songs, performed in the same order, and in the same manner. Also, the band is another typically excellent Frank Zappa ensemble, but apart from the rhythm section (my heavy bias, here), none of the members have the ability to heavily influence the music. Ray's vocal skills are as enjoyable as ever, though Frank has obviously not yet recognized Ray's true ability as he is sorely underused. Eddie is a competent keyboardist (who has some interesting sounds), and proves that a violin solo does not have to be a tedious experience, but his presence is not really felt apart from the occasional solo. It is thus Frank and the rhythm section that redeem this tour and make it the occasionally worthy experience that it is. Frank's handful of solos each show are good and occasionally great, with the rhythm section pushing the meekest of efforts to more intense levels. The different versions of several songs- most notably "Jones Crusher" and"My Guitar"- provide a nice change of scenery, with the former giving us some experimental guitar excursions towards the later part of the tour. But in comparing this tour to the Fall '76 outing, which essentially consisted of the same band, there seems to be one key ingredient missing- fun. Listening to a typical Fall '76 show, one gets the sense that everyone in the band is having a good time. They joke around, there's a lot of vocal tomfoolery, and even some of the song choices infect the mood with a good dose of levity. That aspect is definitely not present on this tour. Apart from the "Titties 'n' Beer" routine, we get no jokes, no horsing around, and all the fun songs from the previous tour have been dropped. Yes, this tour is still enjoyable, and still has some exceptional musical moments, but when the intensity is not there, the lack of contagious high spirits lets the music come across as routine and dull. When you have the same setlists every night, you need either intense musical performances nightly, or a sense of humor to distract the listener from the repetitive nature of the tour. Neither the Fall '76 nor the Spring 77 tour has the former, but at least the Fall '76 tour has the latter. Because of this lack of spontaniety and infectious good times, this tour frequently fails to live up to expectations, and on the whole, does not succeed in becoming one of Frank's truly better tours.
BIG LEG EMMA- Essentially performed as on ZINY, acounting for obvious differences in instrumentation.
BLACK NAPKINS- A solo tour-de-force. Things start off nice and calm, with the short opening vamp followed by Frank playing a simple, understated version of the main theme. Once through the theme, Frank picks up the pace, and gives us a short, in-yer-face typical "Black Napkins"workout. Jobson then steps up and shows us how to satisfy on the violin, proving that not all violin solos have to sound the same (yeah, Ponty). Finally, we get Frank again. Using a clear and simple sound, Frank slowly creates a beautiful, very understated guitar solo, taking his time to make his point, yet eventually reaching more intense heights thanks in part to his propulsive rhythm section. "Pink Napkins" from SUNPYG is an extract from this tour's "Black Napkins", and aptly conveys the restrained sense of playing that Frank usually treated this solo. Coming hot-on-the-heels of Jobson's typically incendiary workouts, Frank manages to impress without Freaking Out, bringing the energy level back down low before slowly raising it up once again.
BLUES- This refers to a short guitar based jam that typically followed this tour's "Jones Crusher". I have always considered it an improvisational coda to the aforementioned tune, though it could stand on its own as a separate jam.
BROKEN HEARTS ARE FOR ASSHOLES- Essentially performed as on "Lather", with the standard deviation coming in Patrick's middle-of-the-song comments.
CAMARILLO BRILLO- Essentially performed as on YCDTOSA Volume VI, allowing for obvious differences in instrumentation, and with the typical fast first half, and the arena rock slow second half.
CITY OF TINY LITES- Essentially performed as on "Conceptual Continuity" from Beat the Boots Volume II, with the standard deviation coming in Ray's solo. As always, Ray treats us to some of his inimitable vocal accompianment during his solos, and then continues on and proves that it is not only for his vocal skills that Frank hired him. Oddly enough, we also get a short O'Hearn bass solo after Ray's solo, which eventually leads us back into the composed guitar theme. In the closing vocal section, Ray sings his heart out, and proves that even if he were the worse guitar player in the world, Frank would still be forced to hire him due to his amazing vocal abilities. While it is nowhere near as crazy as the early '80's versions, these closing verses also contain some slight musical mayhem, courtesy of Frank and some well-used guitar effects. Finally, once the lyrics are finished, Frank and Ray usually engage in some competitive jamming, with Ray vocally improvising on the "over there" line, and Frank ripping off some licks, and an occasional full-blown solo. A version worthy of the "City of Tiny Lites" name.
CRUISIN' FOR BURGERS- Essentially performed as on ZINY, allowing for obvious differences in instrumentation, and with the standard deviation coming in Frank's solo.
DINAH-MO HUMM- Essentially performed as on "Overnite Sensation", allowing for obvious differences in instrumentation.
DONG WORK FOR YUDA- The acapella version, with the hilarious intro-"He's got a little poop shoot, he don't know what he got"- sung to the tune of "Little Deuce Coup". A shortened version of the "Joe's Garage" take, minus some of the early lyrics, but essentially following the same pattern. Terry Ted plays the part of Bald-Headed John in the closing lyrics.
HONEY DON'T YOU WANT A MAN LIKE ME?- Essentially performed as on "Lather", allowing for obvious differences in instrumentation.
ILLINOIS ENEMA BANDIT- Essentially performed as on ZINY, allowing for obvious differences in instrumentation, and with the standard deviation coming in Ray's guitar-only solo (no scat), Eddie's keyboard solo, and Frank's slanderous workout. Yes, this song is a solo-fest this time out, which is probably due to the fact that it only appears once in this four week outing- on 2/3. Ray's solo is quite good (and lengthy), Eddie has a rather high-pitched but interesting sound for his keyboard solo, and Frank's solo starts off nice and chorded and calm before evolving into your typical Frank endeavor. This performance also has a rather non-descript solo vamp, and does not contain the same one found on ZINY (of which I am personally not fond).
I'M THE SLIME- Essentially performed as on ZINY, allowing for obvious differences in instrumentation, and with the standard deviation coming in Frank's solo.
JONES CRUSHER- This is weird. Another of those "is this the same song?" versions. The tune starts off slow and grungy, with some low bluesy guitar, and Ray singing the opening lyrics in a very Beefheart-ish manner. The song then appears as normal for the "She don't merely..." lines. The following verse follows this same pattern- first half blues, second half normal-before evolving into a short, weird horror-movie music vamp. The "Here she comes...." lines essentially sound the same, though quite a bit more staccato, and again there is a different, this-time-more-keyboard oriented theme, following these lines. Finally, we get the closing lines, which are also sung quite similarly to the official version, followed by a different, cold ending conclusion. Towards the later part of the tour, Frank would end the song with a guitar based coda, which typically evoled into a full-blown guitar extravaganza (see "Blues" and "Leather Goods") This version is a mixed bag as far as quality goes- while the musical changes are interesting, there is a de-emphasis on the vocals, which prevents Ray from personalizing this tune as well as Belew did in his performances.
MANX NEEDS WOMEN- Essentially performed as on ZINY, allowing for obvious differences in instrumentation.
MONTANA- Essentially performed as on "Overnite Sensation", allowing for obvious differences in instrumentation, and with the standard deviation coming in Frank's solo. Yes, for what would be the last time until that strange week in December of '84, Frank solos in this song. Not a particular worthy solo (does not hold a candle to the madness of the Fall '74 outing), but it is still a "Montana" solo nonetheless. Oddly enough, Frank decides not to play the "I ride a little tiny horse" section that follows the solo, and thus manages to sabotage this version nonetheless.
MUFFIN MAN- Essentially performed as on "Bongo Fury", from the live portion on, with the standard deviation coming in Frank's solo.
MY GUITAR WANTS TO KILL YOUR MAMA- Another of those "what is this?" versions. This is the SLOW version of this tune. It starts off heavy on the guitar, with Frank playing some distorted chords in a very sluggish yet forceful manner. It is not until the lyrics begin that we realize what song we are in, and then we have second doubts because the lyrics are being sung so slow. When the solo comes, we run and check our tape deck and make sure it is not broken, swearing that this solo should be much faster. But no, the vocals continue, and the voices sound all right, but damn, are they slow. An interesting version, which is actually quite enjoyable once you get over the speed at which it is played. The '77 band slows it down and it works, the '84 band speeds it up and it works- this just must be one solid song.
LEATHER GOODS- One of the much longer improvised codas to this tour's "Jones Crusher" eventually appeared as this bonus track on the 1996 release "Lather". Thus, as it is performed on 2/17, it is exactly the same as it appears on this album.
PEACHES EN REGALIA- Essentially performed as on "Hot Rats" (the Peaches I version), allowing for obvious differences in instrumentation.
POUND FOR A BROWN (ON THE BUS)- Essentially performed as on ZINY, allowing for obvious differences in instrumentation, and with the standard deviation coming in Frank's solo. While this is not the Monster "Pound" found on other tours, this version is rather endearing simply because it harkens back to the days of Flo 'n' Eddie, when all this tune contained was a simple yet impressive guitar solo. While Frank's style, and the rhythmic accompianment, is quite different this time around, there is still a strightforward honesty about these solos that makes them all the more powerful. We get the short theme, and then Frank just doing what he does best. What more could you ask for? My only complaint-> other than endly his solo coldly, and then letting Terry fool around for several minutes before the next song, I wish Frank could have found a better way to segue into the typically next-up "Jones Crusher". But hey, there's no need to be picky, right?
PURPLE LAGOON, THE- This tune is used as an opening and closing number only, i.e. the full-blown extravaganza found on ZINY is not what we get here. Instead, we get the main theme performed by the band, with Frank doing the band introductions, and an occasional short guitar solo, over the music. The tune varies in length according to the length of Frank's solo and/or introductions.
TITTIES 'N' BEER- Essentially performed as on "Lather", with the standard deviation coming in Frank's and Terry Ted's middle of the song debate.
TORTURE NEVER STOPS, THE- The slow, mellow version, essentially performed as on ZINY, allowing for obvious differences in instrumentation, and with the standard deviation coming in Frank's solo. Whether or not you like this version (and this goes for all "Torture's" through the Spring '78 tour), I think you have to admit that nobody could drum this tune better than Bozzio. When I was 18, I bought Frank's newly released YCDTOSA Volume I, and as much as I loved that entire compilation (my first FZ), it was Bozzio's drumming on that mammoth "Torture" that simply floored me. I do not know what it is about it, but Bozzio's style serves this song so well. Even Vinnie cannot compete when it comes to this tune. However, I digress. Like the ZINY version, the guitar solos found here typically start off as rather mellow affairs, though thanks to Bozzio's drumming, O'Hearn's bass playing, and the orgasmic screams of an unknown female in the background, the energy quickly builds, leading us to the tumultuous workouts that we have come to expect. Again, I hate to harp on this point, but it is during these solos, and the "Advance Romance" solos of the Fall '76 tour, and the "Yo Mama's" of the Spring '78 tour, that I find the Bozzio/O'Hearn combination to be the most inspiring support team that Frank ever had. But again, that's just me.
TRYIN' TO GROW A CHIN- Essentially performed as on "Lather".
WILLIE THE PIMP- Dare I say that this version sucks? Yes, I dare, because it does. It starts off promising enough, with Frank tearing into the theme with one of his nastiest sounding tones. But then the vocals start, and we realize that this is not the blasphemous "Willie the Pimp" of the early '70's, but the dreaded "Willie the Pimp Mach II"- the version found on YCDTOSA Volume IV. You know the one, with the redone lyrics, which manage to make this song sound cute. Okay, maybe the solo will redeem things. But no, where's the solo? Just Frank and band randomly jamming for several minutes- no real solo, just a lot of swiftly played chords. Now we are back to the vocals, and no, they do not sound any better the second time round. Finally, we get the real Frank Zappa guitar solo, with a more sinister sounding tone, and hopefully it is well worth the wait. But no, sadly it is not. Yes, its a quite lengthy solo, but it is truly boring. Amazingly enough, this version makes the '84 version sound brilliant. Not an easy feat.
Actually, my feelings for these tours are pretty similar to yours - a certain kind of ambivalence. I think you summed up this ambivalence pretty well by writing "this is not a great band", while still praising Bianca and Ray (probably my fave singing combo), the rhythm section (great - I agree), and gives Jobson credit as well. I like this band a lot, probably better than you (than you like it, that is!), and the major reason might be Jobson - I love his efforts on both the violin and keyboards. Both of his moog solos on ZINY are among my favourite non-Zappa solos, and his "Black Napkins" solos are among the most magical moments in my tape collection. Still, I must admit that there's something lacking (sounds like the 1974 #1, doesn't it?), and it has surely to do with the lack of onstage personality as you pointed out - especially after Bianca's departure. But I also think they suffered from the lack of different instruments, the same way the 1975/76 and spring '80 bands did. No horns, no percussion - just the underused violin (guess a 2nd keyboardist wouldn't have hurt). Still, I must say these bands sounds interesting compared to FZ's other smaller touring combos, much because of Bianca while she was in, and Jobson's different keyboard sounds. I love his use of clavinet on "City of Tiny Lites", for example. How great this band could've sounded is proved in the Dec. shows, with horn and percussion sections. The ZINY-band is probably my overall favourite line-up, though I don't count it as a tour on its own (I do understand why you wanted to divide it this way, though).